Saturday, March 14, 2015

So Seedy: Stubborn Resolve Takes Root


When I was a kid I was a feral thing, spontaneous, uncombed, and feisty. Routinely left unsupervised,  I discovered the joys of playing with matches, knives, and road flares. When my family was nearly kicked out of our housing area due to the shenanigans of my brother and I, I channeled my energy into less flammable and bloody pursuits.  Hours were spent riding my bike miles across the various towns we lived in with the only rule that I be home by dark. If I became lost, it was my job to become found and to do it by sundown. What I lacked in civility, I made up for in confidence.


In 2013 when I learned the majority of all plants sold at nurseries have been treated with systemic neonicotinoid pesticides, I resolved to grow all my own annuals and to seek out growers who sold clean, pesticide-free plants. Despite my initial fear that I would soon have a garden without any plants, I decided to try anyway. Instead of ignoring the problem and waiting for growers to sell clean plants, I had to create my own solution.  If I became lost along the way, I would simply keep pedaling until I figured out how to get home. But this time, I'd have a basket of flowers along for the ride. 


Without a fabulous greenhouse or sunroom, I had to get creative if I wanted to be able to grow enough plants to fill all my pots. 



I started very small and only had two plant lights last year. Everything I sowed grew. It helped that I only grew plants that are easy to grow.

I turned shelves in our basement into a flower factory. Cheap grow lights are surrounded with tin foil to keep the light from diffusing into the room.


Seeds were sown directly into large plastic drink cups with holes poked in the bottom. Seeds that need darkness to germinate were covered with newspaper while the other cups were given plastic baggie 'greenhouses'. The name of each plant was written on the cup.

What am I growing?

I broke everything down into four groups that can be seen on my page So Seedy. This page also provides links to the seed companies I used as well as updates on how everything is progressing.

Group One

I started sweet pea and 'Pow Wow Wildberry' coneflower seeds Jan 1. It was way too early but I was excited.

Group Two


From top left to right, clockwise: 'Blue Monday' sage, 'Ensign Mix' dwarf morning glories, ammi majus, 'Pacifica' vinca, 'Mammoth' verbena, pink/purple/orange/white gomphrena 


'Crimson Celebrity' dwarf hollyhocks, 'Mignon Mix' dahlias, 'Tuscany Lavender' verbena,  'Red Dragon' asarina (vine), 'Cottness Mix' dahlia.

Group 3



'Serenita Mix' angelonia, 'Persian Carpet' zinnias, 'Goldfinger' dwarf tithonia, 
'Zahara Starlight Rose' zinnias, 'Peggy's Delight' zinnias,
 'Cosmic Orange/Red' cosmos, 'Sonata Mix' cosmos

Winter Sowing



Orange Poets Tassel Flower, 'Denver Daisies' rudbeckia hirta, hyssop, centranthus ruber (Jupiter's Beard/red valerian), curly parsely, 'Indian Summer' rudbeckia, 'Irish Eyes' rudbeckia


This is the closest I'll ever come to greenhouse. But it's keeping my sweet peas happy so I'm happy. I'll use it to harden off my seedlings before planting them in the spring.


Almost every sweet pea seed germinated. Once our nights are consistently in the 40's, I'll plant them outside. They've been pinched back multiple times to control their growth.


The dahlias also germinated very quickly and I have about 3 dozen seedlings. I splurged on a seedling heat mat to keep them warm.


The 'Blue Monday' salvia sprouted in just two days! I have no idea where I'm going to put all these seedlings. Many will end up being given away.

This spring instead of worrying that my new plants are filled with pesticides, I'll have over 100 seedlings to chose from. Extras will be given to friends and only shade-loving, non-pollinator supporting plants like coleus and begonias as well as organic herbs will be purchased from my local garden center. 

I haven't changed the industry but I've been a voice in the collective scream that is looking for alternatives to poisoned plants. It just took a bit of confidence. 


NOTE: My comments on Wordpress blogs are suddenly being directed into Spam folders. If you can't be reached by email or Facebook, I haven't been able to let you know. I've contacted Wordpress but the problem has yet to be resolved. 

99 comments:

  1. Bravo Bravo Bravo!! This post is such an inspiration!

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  2. I've done lots of winter sowing in the past, but not so much now that I've got the big greenhouse. I've used a mini portable greenhouse in the past too, for starting seeds. Mostly with me it was to save money, but making sure you're not getting pesticide-laden plants is a worthy reason too.

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    1. It probably takes a few years for the grow lights to pay for themselves, even though I bought cheap ones. Eventually this will save loads of money. But knowing I have a container garden full of clean plants is worth the expense. :o)

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  3. Here in the EU region, the use of neonicotinoid pesticides have been heavily restricted the last few years and are no longer available for private use and are only available in commercial use under certain conditions. I suppose the US marked will follow suit – eventually. In the meantime it is great whatever steps each and every one can take.

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    1. The EU is so far ahead of the US regarding chemicals in the environment. Chemicals that are almost impossible to buy there are readily available here. The hardware stores and garden centers are full of them. It's horrible and so profoundly stupid.

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  4. Considering the huge number of seeds sold every year by seed-merchants, it is a wonder that Garden Centres still manage to sell so many plants! Growing your own from seed is so much more economical, and more rewarding too - it gives you a sense of achievement. By the way, some commercial seeds are also treated with chemicals, such as anti-fungals which reduce the danger of damping-off.

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    1. I think UK gardeners buy a lot more seeds than Americans. Starting plants from seed isn't very common here since we also don't have the deep gardening culture you do. Seeds treated with anti-fungals don't bother me. But pesticides do!

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  5. I loved this post, sowing is so much rewarding. Nowadays I´m growing only a few different seeds, as sweet peas, tomatoes, Ipomoea and basilicum and salads. Too few empty spots in the garden, all is overgrown with shrubs and perennials.

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    1. When I first started gardening I grew many plants from seed that I quite literally just threw in the soil. I was too naive to worry that they wouldn't grow. I had to remind myself of that as I started my seeds this year. But seeing them grow is so amazing and validating. It feels magical to me. :o)

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  6. Good for you! I sow most of my own veggies for the kitchen garden as well as companion plants so I don't know why I didn't think of growing my own annuals from seeds for our pots. Thanks to your post I know what I will be doing today. I was at Home Depot the other day, not to shop for plants, but to check out their new labeling. They have agreed to label their plants that are treated with neonics. They even had house plants that are treated with neonics against white flies, mites, etc. Who knew!

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    1. That's amazing!! I hope the other big box retailers follow suit.

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  7. Good for you Tammy! From the pictures in your post, it would appear that you are very successful too. I also start most of my plants from seed, including all vegetables and many perennials. As for annuals I mostly concentrate on things that don't need to be started too early. I think growing things from seed is much more satisfying. Our ancestors did it for millenniums, perhaps it is in our genes, some kind of atavistic urge!

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    1. The secret to my success is to grow plants that are easy to grow. :o) There is something profoundly satisfying with patting a seed into soil and seeing a plant sprout out.

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  8. You had me at your opening paragraph!! I can so see you being an independent soul as a child! GOOD for you for stepping forward and putting this in to the universe! You can and you will and you have! So proud of you buddy! It makes me so made at all the crap that it is sprayed on plants. I am so impressed but what you have growing! Just a joy to see! I have started seeds with the beans in hopes to not only know where my plants are coming from but save some money in the process. I have bagged the idea of trying to save for a potting bench after reading your comment and found that a little old dresser I have will do just fine. I can't wait to follow along with you on your garden adventure this year! Beautiful selections you have up there!!! Nicole xoxo

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    1. I had no idea this post would motivate so many people to start their own seeds. Yay!! Those Blue Monday sage seedlings sprouted in two days! Those would be fun to grow with your little ones. Plus, the leaves are crinkly and hairy, which is so cool. :o)

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  9. Kudos Tammy! I look forward to seeing what I'm sure will be a bountiful and beautiful garden. Not having your ingenuity in growing seeds inside (or the space to grow in), I'm planning to convert my vegetable garden beds to seed-grown flowers (although I think I'll need to throw out conventional guidelines on seed-starting schedules to adapt to our new-normal climate).

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    1. Thanks! I do have a way of making things work. Throwing out any preconceived idea about how something should work is the first step. With your climate, you don't need to start your seeds inside. What are you going to grow?

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  10. That's wonderful, Tammy! If anyone is creative, it's you! I have several reliable organic growers nearby, so I'm avoiding the ones I'm unsure about. I'm also trying to grow more plants from seed, but I'm not as patient as you are! Very impressive!

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    1. Thanks! There is an organic herb nursery nearby as well as a few tiny nurseries that sell natives only. But the only way to buy annuals is to shop at the local garden centers and big box stores. Having been to the trade shows and talked to the nursery staff, I know how packed with chemicals the plants are. Growing something from seed seems so daunting but it's actually pretty easy.

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  11. Gosh, you will be able to open your own nursery with that lot ! You will have hundreds of happy healthy plants. I too grow my own, and it is a labour of love. Your sweet peas look like strong young plants. I have got dahlias growing too, and this year I am trying 'Giant Hybrids', which are living up to their name and growing like triffids!

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    1. I'd read that growing dahlias from seed was both easy and difficult and didn't know what to believe. The ones I started sprouted so quickly and are growing vigorously. We may both end up with a garden full of triffids!

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  12. I'm all over this since you alerted me to it in previous posts. I'm not very good at growing things in pots but I'm upping my game. I'm starting some perennials and self seeders in the hope I don't have to do this too often. I'm resurrecting the characteristics of my younger self, which I'm sorry to say had to put up with a lot of restrictions. It was the best of me and the best for me. My recent plans tend to be grand and optimistic although I believe it was you who encouraged me to dig up the whole meadow.

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    1. I did indeed encourage you to dig up the meadow unless it's already full of flowers then you should leave it. But if it's just grass, then dig away! I love self seeders because they do all the work for me. The phacelia seeds you sent me last year resulted in one plant that I'm hoping survived the winter. :o)

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  13. You have certainly figured out the seed growing system. The aluminum foil is genius.
    Such a reward for your efforts. Grow plants grow!

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    1. The foil is so very helpful. Plus, it keeps the plants warm. :o)

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  14. There is still such magic in growing planats from seeds, unfortunately I do not have the patience for it.

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    1. It's kept me from going completely nuts while I wait for spring.

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  15. Oh my goodness! This is great. I did not know that that nursery plants are sprayed with neonics. Isn't that just awful? Honestly will we ever stop annihilating every living thing on this planet, for what? So we can all have gardens and houses that look like a staged magazine spread. It's just gross. You are showing the world you can have a beautiful garden without damaging the environment or killing all our beneficial critters. You have inspired me to buy some seeds and go for it. I have a seed catalogue from West Coast Seeds, non gmo and some organic seeds . Time to make a list!

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    1. YAY!! That is so cool! I only grow plants that are easy to grow. Let me know what you sow! :o)

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  16. A fabulous idea! You are an inspiration: )

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  17. You grow girl! And yes to being the change!

    I had no idea, and now I am scared to ask if it happens like that in Canada also. Awful....all those plants. I do grow most of my own seedlings...some by direct seeding, and some in pots. Annuals are just too much money up here for me to go hog wild like I would love to do. But you have opened my eyes to a new and rather worrisome reality...but that's a good thing.

    Jen

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    1. Annuals down here range from very cheap to stupidly expensive, depending on the plant. But since the consumer wants a perfect plant, they pump them full of chemical for a guaranteed perfect product regardless of the environmental impact. I've become a plant detective/flower farmer instead of just blindly buying whatever suited my fancy.

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  18. You are a Garden Goddess. Thank you for your work and the inspiration to the rest of us. We all need to step up, grow what we can and demand that the nursery business provide more responsibly produced plants.

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    1. Wow! High praise! I grew several annuals last year but not nearly enough so I stuffed a lot of pots with coleus or organically grown herbs. Peace Tree Farms sells clean plants so I used some fun and totally new to me plants from them to fill in large gaps. But this year I'll have my own flower farm to shop from. :o)

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  19. You are a serious badass! I direct sow and support local growers that don't use systemic neonicotinoid pesticides. You impress me.

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    1. Woohoo!! But you live in gardening mecca with so many cool nurseries around you. Here - I'm the crazy lady with weird lights in the basement. ;o)

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  20. It sounds like you have lots of joy in growing your seeds and each day must be full of surprises, like inspecting the garden in Spring time to see what has grown overnight. I was unaware of the neonicotinoid pesticides in plants in North America.
    Congratulations on being the change.
    Helenx

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    1. Thanks, Helen. These pesticides are endemic to the nursery profession. It's worth it to search out growers that don't use them. While most garden centers don't apply them after they've purchased plants from the growers, the plants arrive packed with chemicals.

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  21. I loved this post. I have not tried to grow anything inside yet, but this gets me thinking.... I did find your comment in my Spam folder and I don't know why. Michelle

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    1. Wordpress has fixed the problem so hopefully it won't happen again. Try growing a few things from seed. It's not as hard as it appears. :o)

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  22. I can't wait to see your garden on summer. Thank you for sharing me your way on growing seeds. I have a great lesson from this post!

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  23. Like two peas in a pod we are...I had a ball growing up...yes I was very much a tomboy....much to my mum's chagrin, but my dad and I were partners.
    Your post made me smile and laugh at my good old childhood days.
    The seedlings are doing well, wish I was a neighbour to receive some of them....the flowers are beautiful.

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    1. My dad and I were close, too. He always knew I'd come ok in the end. My seedlings are happy campers. If you lived closer, I'd give you the extras. :o)

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  24. What a terrific post! I was a tomboy too, climbed trees with Danny and Rusty Brown, played snake in the grass until 9:00 pm and came in with green grass stains all over my jeans, played guitar "like a guy" (no Kumbaya for this girl), grew up with two Great Danes, Rum and Coke, who went everywhere with me. Reading about your young life, I picture you like "Scout" in To Kill a Mockingbird. That's a great nickname for you btw, *Scout.* I would have let you in to my all boys and one girl club at seven years old-:))

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    1. Thanks! I have a dog named Scout who is my shadow. :o) I would have joined your club in a hot minute and much fun would have been had.

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  25. All it takes is the first little step - good for you! This post has given me the courage to start my own seeds. My biggest problem is the catz. Nothing is safe or sacred. But, then, if there's a will, there's a way. I think I'll start with sweet peas...

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    1. Cat-proofing seed trays can be a challenge but I'd love to read about your solution. I haven't had sweet peas in my garden in almost 20 years so I'm excited to finally have those wonderful flowers again. I chose the varieties with the most scent. :o)

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  26. I'm really getting into growing plants from seed this year, too. I think I could be sowing seeds at 101 years old and I'd still be tickled to see those first green shoots popping up. It's miraculous.

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    1. There is something very primal and magical in watching seed sprout. It's becoming a bit addictive. :o)

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  27. Thanks for carrying this torch. I hope many of us will follow your guiding light.

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  28. Hi Tammy, I tried commenting and my comment somehow vanished. I'll try again. It was good meeting you in person yesterday. I love the fact that you are growing sweet peas. You do have to start those early.

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    1. It was great meeting you, too! There needs to be a cyberspace Lost and Found for all the comments that are sucked into the blogosphere. I love how enthusiastic my sweet pea seedlings are. I can hardly wait til they bloom. I chose the most fragrant varieties I could find.

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  29. Glad you are helping the bees! It is a scary situation.

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    1. It is but it's reversible if we all do our part.

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  30. Fab post! All that childhood cycling must have built up your constitution for the rigours of major quantities of potting on. Here's hoping that something is done about neonicotinoids before you take over your whole house with seedlings.

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    1. I love the physical exertion of gardening so maybe all the running around I did as a kid helped. A house full of seedlings sounds wonderful as long as I have help watering them all!

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  31. That chart on your So Seedy page was impressive. I applaud your efforts to buy plants that are raised without pesticides or to grow your own. My basement is as cold as a refrigerator, so it is not a great option for me. I'd love to start my seedlings in a couple of weeks (April), so hopefully I can figure something out.

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    1. Thanks, Jennifer! I am lucky that I have a warm, finished basement. But maybe your cold frames would be a great place to start.

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  32. Awesome! Such a great post. I love to grow plants from seeds, too. It's rather addictive - so much cheaper for lots of plants, and you know for sure they are pesticide free! Every year I grow more and more. I've just started my indoor seeds, as it will probably be a late spring, but I have a good amount that I've wintersown!

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    1. What are you wintersowing? Have you noticed that topic so rarely comes up on blogs? It's odd since it's the cheapest/easiest way to grow anything.

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  33. You are really an inspiration. I would love to do what you have done here. Very intriguing selection of annuals and perennials.I have never been successful with sweet peas or gomphrena.

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    1. This is the first time I've gotten sweet peas to grow here. Every time I start them outside, they die. But they germinated so quickly in their cups. I went ahead and planted them outside in a pot after hardening them off since they had become root bound. I wanted colorful annuals that would attract pollinators and be easy to grow. Do you have any nurseries around you that sell pesticide-free plants?

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  34. Wow, just look at all those seedlings! I've had mixed success with starting seeds indoors, so I'm not quite that ambitious. But I have learned over time which plants seem easiest to start for me and focus on them, although I can't resist trying a few new ones each year. I'm hoping our local nurseries label plants this year if they have used these pesticides; if not, I'm definitely asking everywhere I go!

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    1. I think my Tuscany Lavender verbena is going to be a dud. :( I may move some of those Blue Monday salvia seedlings into their cups. Live and learn! The nurseries rarely apply pesticides in-house but usually buy from growers who use them liberally. It allows the nursery to say they don't use pesticides while selling plants packed with them. It's very slick and deceiving.

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  35. Well, form one feral kid to another I am in awe! You go girl, I can't believe you have sweet peas, I haven't even sown mine yet!!! I love all your choices and can't wait to see how they all fare, one thing for sure is that the insects will love you for moving away from dirty plants!
    I have a problem with all blogspot posts, I'm simply no longer receiving notification of posts.....sighs....I shall unsubscribe and then subscribe again to see if that helps.xxx

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    1. I was so excited to grow something that I started them Jan 1! I went ahead and moved them outside. They're quite thrilled. :o) How irritating to miss notifications. Sometimes my comments on other blogs post, sometimes they don't. It's all so random.

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  36. Look at you go. You are way ahead of me for variety. I am just doing some annuals and veggies. Please still comment on my blogs as I check my spam folder daily and will catch anything that goes there.

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    1. I'll be there! Wordpress contacted me to say they had resolved the problem so hopefully my comments won't end up in your spam folder. I am excited to have so many different plants growing in my basement flower factory. It's very satisfying to fill your pots/garden with plants you've grown yourself.

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  37. Hi Tammy, I really admire you for growing your own plants from seeds to make a difference in the world. Can't wait to see how it looks when they all have found a home in your garden. I bet you will provide tons of pesticide free plants for your gardening friends as well. Warm regards,
    Christina

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    1. Thanks! I am planning on sharing the bounty, for sure! The more clean plants we can grow, the better!

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  38. What a wonderful post, i am smiling all the way! I am not so keen in looking at those lovely flowers, anyway i can see them in other blogs, but i stared intently at that bike. I think that is the only one of its kind wherever, if only i can ask someone to build one like that! I will not be bothered if i can't see your comment in my 2 blogsites, anyway i am so contented with that i've read here, hahaha!

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    1. Thanks! That bike is awesome but it doesn't have any pedals so it would be a challenge to ride.

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  39. Good for you!! Not only are you doing a good thing for the universe but growing your own is so addictive. you'll love checking on those seeds and seeing how they grow. I'm planning on buying one of those plastic greenhouse thingies myself this year. Kittens apparently love plants and I think it's the only way I'll get any seedlings.

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    1. Growing plants from seed is addictive! It's been warm enough that I can take them outside to soak in the sun and they're growing quickly, a bit like kittens but less destructive. Good luck with your plastic propagator. I hope it's kitten proof. :)

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  40. Congratulations on your success! Your garden will be beautiful, the pollinators will be happy, and your pocketbook, no doubt, is fatter! But are you certain there is no greenhouse in your future? You know they make small ones.

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    1. Thanks! My entire lot is only a 1/4 acre and that includes the house. :( I just don't have anywhere to put a greenhouse bigger than my pop up plastic one. But I wish I did!

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  41. My goodness, what an amazing selection of plants you are growing, how big is your garden.? You are a One - Woman Industry. You could start your own mail order business with all these plants. Well done on the enormous effort involved. And a healthy, chemical- free garden.

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    1. Most of these plants will go into the 85 containers I have on my patio. But many will be given away to friends. Filling the cups with soil and sowing everything was time consuming, but the rest is easy. Knowing my plants will be chemical-free makes the effort worth it. :o)

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  42. aww...this blogger vs wordpress blogging communication is a pain in the you know what-LOL. please excuse my repeat comment if it worked-
    I LOVED THIS POST!!!!!!! The exclamation marks are me jumping up and down with excitement:-) It snowed today , so I did not work in the yard. I decided to stop over and visit to see what you were doing- 1st- my bike was an appendage when I was a kid, we would of been friends, if were young together-your story was mine-minus the extra brothers- I had one brother. My bike is still my appendage and from spring to fall I am riding it on the MIssissippi-Huck and Tom by my side!
    2nd-the seed growing-you are a kindred spirit! I took my middle daughter' s bedroom and converted it into a growing room. I am such a bad mother-they leave, I inherit more space-tee hee-I love them, but it is my space now:-)
    We are growing a lot of similar plants-fun! I can't wait to see how it all works. I do not buy any plants from the local store + you are so right about the harm it causes to our native pollinators:-)
    GREAT POST + PHOTOS-Yipee-I need to stop over more often, you love "color" too!

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    1. I had one brother and rode my bike at every opportunity when I was a kid. I have knee problems so I don't ride anymore but still love the feeling of freedom and escape a bike provides. I am getting ready to take over another section of the basement for my Group 3 seeds. Yippee!

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  43. Bravo to you! Looking forward to seeing your blooms in situ.

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  44. Well done on taking such a firm stance. It must demand more in terms of resourcefulness and time to grow seeds under lights. I'm full of admiration and hope that you are rewarded by some beautiful flowers this summer.

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    1. Setting everything up and sowing the seeds was time consuming but keeping them alive has been easy. I just have to turn on the lights and give the plants a little water. :o)

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  45. Tammy I prefer your group 'Winter sowing' and have these flowers as well. I see you use foil for growing seedlings, I count this way is to make them grow faster.
    Your small closet I call it small greenhouse I'd put it in a big greenhouse to save my seedlings in warmth.
    Have a nice weekend!

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    1. I'd love to have a bigger greenhouse but I don't have room. :( The foil definitely helps keep them warm and keeps the light bright. I think when all the plants are in pots and blooming, it will be beautiful. :o)

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  46. Hi Tammy, I remember from previous years about your seed sowing being completely mad and on an industrial scale and this year, it looks like to have just gotten a whole lot bigger! We'll, more power to you, girl and I really hope the millions of seedlings you're going to have germinating all do well and end up in the garden - even if you do have to take over the neighbourhood to fit them all in!

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    1. I have two neighbors that are moving. If I could only win the lottery so I could buy their lots.... :o)

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  47. Love it! Good for you! Every year, I tell myself I'm going to grow some things from seed, and every year I miss the boat. By now, if I'm going to grow anything from seed, I think I'm just going to put it in the ground. I bought seeds for black poppies last year, but never got them out of the envelope. Wonder if they're still good...

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    1. Thanks, Anna! I'd throw those seeds in the ground just to see what will happen. They might just grow. :o)

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  48. I am so glad to see you taking a stand on this! Here in Australia, many of the larger garden centres use all sorts of chemicals, pesticides and treatments to make plants look 'uniform' and 'ready-for-sale' because they say that 'uniformity is what the customer wants' - I imagine if customers knew the devastating effect of all of the chemicals used on the environment they may change their tune, but here there is no requirement for nurseries to report their growing methodologies. Thankfully I have found some suppliers who don't always try to make every plant look like a perfect little ball, but mostly I resort to seed, because, well - it's fun, it's so cheap, I can get a huge variety of plants and I end up with plants that when in flower don't poison every insect that comes near. Well done!

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    1. Most of our garden centers are exactly like yours. Finding online nurseries that sell clean plants took a bit of detective work, but they're out there. But anything I buy from a garden center will have been treated with chemicals to look perfect unless it's been marked organic or comes from a growers who uses mostly organic, non-lethal methods. Starting plants from seed is rewarding and addictive. If I just had a bigger greenhouse... :o)

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  49. interesting, inspiring post, Tammy. I don;'t use seeds much but I source plants from committed nurseries run by likeminded people who don't use chemicals. But certainly growing from seed is much more economical. Happy pedalling!

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    1. It's been a huge learning experience, for sure. I just love knowing my plants are safe for all the creatures who visit my garden. :o)

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  50. So you were quite the ragamuffin growing up? Me too! And look at how well we've funneled that energy into something positive. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever that nurseries need to be fumigating plants that end up harming our little bees. Until they stop the insanity, we'll grow things that we know are safe for them. You are the seed-starting queen! I've got several annuals I need to get started yet. It's so rewarding, isn't it?

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